The Northern Lifestyles Problem or On Arrogance and Hypocrisy

There is a frequently recurring theme in the discussions about global environmental problems. It starts with the observation that we, the so-called “West” or “global North”, have overused global resources and sinks badly, be it reserves of minerals and metals (rare earths, oil, phosphorus…), the atmosphere or the oceans. Part of the problem seems to be our common modes of consumption. All too often, the destruction of nature does not take place in our own neighbourhoods, but in the so-called “global South”, where many of our resources come from and where many sinks tend to be located (or where the overuse of the latter is most visible – vide climate change). But the problem of the near future is often perceived not to be us, not only us at least, but the societies of the so-called emerging economies – particularly China and India, but also South Africa, Brazil, Argentina or many countries in South-East Asia. Continue reading

Want to Save the World? Start in China

Within a few days, Yale e360 published two extremely interesting analyses of China’s recent environmental and social problems: China’s Great Dam Boom by Charlton Lewis and China at Crossroads by Ed Grumbine. Both fascinating in their own right, these articles show that if you want to save the world from a looming environmental catastrophe, you have to start in China. Continue reading

Sacrificing Development Needs for Prestige

China, a country where 4 per cent of the population are still living in poverty (following the rather rigorous definition of the World Bank), is about to spend billions of dollars to enable a few Chinese astronauts a flight to the Moon by 2025. There is hardly a tangible benefit to be found in this project – except some kind of international prestige. Meanwhile, the resources (we are talking here about much more than just money, e.g. time, skills etc.) required for its successful carrying out might well be sensibly invested in development projects that would yield a high social return. China’s Moon project seeems to be a particular variation of the positional goods problem described by Fred Hirsch in 1976 – on the national rather than individual level. And it seems to be even more profound than the difficulty originally identified by Hirsch. Continue reading

The Worst “Climate Offender” in the World

A few years ago this headline (and similar ones in other media) made round:

China overtakes U.S. in greenhouse gas emissions [source]

For years the United States, the only industrialized country that refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, was blamed for being the global “climate offender” no. 1. This changed around 2006, when China became the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter. Though the U.S. remain a scapegoat, they are not alone any more. Although still a developing (i.e., industrializing) country, China is now emitting almost 20% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gases. The Chinese are considered the new “worst climate offender”. But this picture is terribly oversimplified. Continue reading

Sustainability and Population Control

For the time being, the world population is approaching the level of 7 billion people (it probably will reach it this year). According to UN estimates, by the middle of the century there will be 9 billion people out there. Since we are already heavily pressing against the Earth’s carrying capacity limits, it is obvious that 2 billion more of us won’t alleviate the pressure – quite the opposite is to be expected. Thus it seems clear that a sustainable world economy require a constraint of the population growth (and, indeed, its reversal). Thus a group of scientists calling for a sustainable (or steady-state) economy – notably the economist Herman Daly – is calling for a form of population control to achieve this. Continue reading

The Problem Is the WTO

Kevin Gallagher from TripleCrisis wrote a very insightful article about the US-China conflict about government support of the latter for its domestic green industry. You can read it here.

Here an excerpt:

    The US claims that such impressive feats have been achieved in part by the establishment of a green fund that helps firms make wind power equipment, with the stipulation that some parts be sourced from Chinese firms. If the WTO finds that China’s green fund targets only specific sectors, that such funds are conditioned on sourcing to local firms, and that the funds are channelled to trade activities that harm US firms and workers, then China may indeed be found in violation of the WTO rules.

    But if that does prove to be the case, China should not be seen as the problem. The problem is the WTO.